Scream 2

Scream 2 is currently available on instant Netflix.

Scream 2 (1997) – Rated R

“In the two years since the fateful events in Woodsboro, Gale has written a best-seller, which has been turned into a film. As the movie premiere looms closer, the mysterious deaths begin again. Dewey heads to Sidney’s college to protect her.”

“There are certain rules that one must abide by in order to create a successful sequel. Number one: the body count is always bigger. Number two: the death scenes are always much more elaborate – more blood, more gore – *carnage candy*. And number three: never, ever, under any circumstances, assume the killer is dead. “

Props have to be given to Scream for setting the whole series up but Scream 2 has a better cast, better jokes, and is generally the better film. Director Wes Craven and writer Kevin Williamson’s cross of ironic humorous detachment and actual suspense gel here just as well as they did in Scream. Scream 2 is funny and suspenseful.

Craven assembles a fantastic cast here. Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, and David Arquette return as our heroes/victims Sidney Prescott, Gale Weathers, and Deputy Dewey. Jaime Kennedy also returns hilariously as film geek Randy Meeks to warn us of the dangers of being in a sequel.

Liev Schreiber plays the recently released from jail, Cotton Weary. Sarah Michelle Gellar, Rebecca Gayheart, and Portia de Rossi play sorority sisters. Joshua (Fringe) Jackson, Timothy (Justified) Olyphant, and Jerry (Piranha) O’ Connell are students. Laurie (Andy’s Mom in Toy Story) Metcalf is a reporter.

Acting as guest stars are Jada Pinkett Smith and Omar Epps explaining why you don’t see people of color in this type of film. Heather Graham, Tori Spelling, and Luke Wilson cameo as Casey, Sidney, and Billy in the movie within a movie, Stab. As you can see, you might get whiplash just pointing out who’s who in Scream 2.

One of the problems with slasher films is that much of the runtime is just filler between kill scenes with a bunch of stock cardboard characters (the jock, the slut, the nerd, the comic relief, the rich guy, the virgin). Here that time is filled with many humorous asides and a number of fairly exciting chase sequences. Characters are fleshed out and feel real. Humor is not restricted to the comic relief or the killer.

While none of the killings have the visceral brutal quality of the opening of Scream, most are quite inventive. One of the killings is particularly shocking and the reveal is almost as good as the one in Scream. Naturally, as one character handily points out, the body count is higher and the deaths are bloodier and more elaborate.

People Watch: There are plenty of cameos here. Matthew Lillard has a cameo as guy at party. Wes Craven has a cameo as a doctor. Selma Blair is the voice on the phone talking to Cici. Kevin Williamson is Cotton’s interviewer.

Sequel-itis: Scream 3 (2000) suffers severely from Kevin Williamson not doing the script. His Scream and Scream 2 scripts tread the fine line between suspense and humor. Scream 3 falls from sly humor into farce and there is little suspense.

Kevin Williamson comes back as scriptwriter in Scream 4 (2011) and it shows. Unfortunately the first two Screams mined the idea for most of its potential. The opening of Scream 4 is inspired and fun, the ending and many of the ideas are nice but it is not the classic that Scream and Scream 2 are.

The Signal

The Signal is currently available on instant Netflix.

The Signal (2007) – Rated R

“When the phones, radios and televisions in the city of Terminus begin to broadcast the same strange signal, the transmission breeds jealousy and hate, turning once-sane people into murderous lunatics. A faithless wife seeks the safety of her lover, while her affected husband hunts for her. David Bruckner, Jacob Gentry and Dan Bush each write and direct an act of this horror tale that was nominated for a John Cassavetes Independent Spirit Award.”

“Anna, I need a couple of things that Ken borrowed, namely my hatchet… and some garbage bags. “

The Signal is a wonderful idea. Take three creative people (David Bruckner, Dan Bush and Jacob Gentry) and let them each write, direct, and edit an act of a continuous horror movie. Gentry is also a producer on The Signal. The movie is cleanly divided into three acts plus a prologue.

The prologue is an excerpt of “The Hap Hapgood Story” directed by Jacob Gentry. It is an uncomfortable send-up of exploitation pictures and Hap was one of the winning entries in the 48-hour film festival.

Act one, Crazy in Love, sets up the premise and deals with the initial outbreak. It is very tense and genuinely frightening. There is a really good atmosphere of building paranoia and creeping insanity. Just when you think they can’t ratchet up the tension any more, part two begins.

Part two, The Jealousy Monster, was directed by Jacob Gentry and starts to tell the story from the point of view of those affected by the signal. With the change of director, not only does the direction of the story change but the tone does a complete 180. The second film is hysterical – one of the funniest horror segments I’ve ever seen.

Unfortunately the third film, Escape from Terminus by Dan Bush, is left to wrap up the story and while it does bring up some interesting questions such as our identity, it feels very cluttered and doesn’t wrap up the movie very well. The tone of the third segment also feels very uneven.

The acting is just fine from a bunch of unknown young actors. Anessa Ramsey plays our unhappy housewife, Mya. Justin Wellborn is her boyfriend Ben. They really sell their complicated relationship and it is a part of what makes The Signal work so well. A.J. Bowen is Mya’s jealous husband, Lewis and he is quite scary.

Overall the film is a wonderful experiment in terror, leavened with a lot of humor – please be aware however that this film is quite brutal.

People Watch: Directors David Bruckner and Dan Bush both appear as ‘screaming man’ in The Signal. Jacob Gentry apparently does not put in a cameo.

Mid-Month Netflix Update

According to a Sandvine Broadband report, during peak download time, traffic breaks down like this:

33% Netflix

11% YouTube

1.75% Amazon Prime

1.38% Hulu

0.52% HBO Go

So not only is Netflix easily the reigning champion but it has 20 times the viewers of Amazon Prime and Hulu. I was surprised to see Hulu show up below Amazon though.

Netflix has been spreading their new releases out a bit more so the 15th of the month update was a little sparse.

Horror got a boost with the cult classic Re-Animator, Monster Brawl, Madison County, Dead Season, and Airborne

We also got a little bit of stand-up comedy: Paul Rodriguez: Just for the Record and D.L. Hughley: Reset

Television series got some new episodes of: Teen Wolf, The Sarah Silverman Program, Merlin, and Stargate Universe.

Netflix finally has a preview of its new series, House of Cards starring Kevin Spacey. The series is based on an amazing BBC show, House of Cards, which is also available on instant Netflix.

Finally, if you simply must see every bad movie out there: Uwe Boll’s latest videogame movie, In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale just became available.

Lifeforce

Lifeforce is currently available on instant Netflix.

Lifeforce (1985) – Rated R

“American and British astronauts on a joint mission exploring an alien spacecraft discover that the vessel contains several seemingly human bodies. But after they’re brought back to Earth, they come alive and start turning Londoners into zombies.”

“No, you don’t understand. Part of me didn’t want to leave. She killed all my friends and I still didn’t want to leave. Leaving her was the hardest thing I ever did. “

Lifeforce is not the first movie to feature space vampires. The Planet of the Vampires arrived a full two decades before. In spite of Planet of the Vampire’s wonderful and highly influential visuals, Lifeforce is a lot more fun.

Lifeforce is, however, a mess. Lifeforce is a very haphazard adaptation of Colin Wilson’s banally titled novel, Space Vampires. The screenplay was written by Dan (Alien) O’Bannon and Don Jacoby. The script was then ‘doctored’ by Michael Armstrong and Olaf Pooley. In spite of, or perhaps because of, all those hands, there are huge gaping plot holes. The whole insane asylum subplot should have been jettisoned as all it does is take up time.

Golan – Globus wanted this to be a science fiction blockbuster. This must be why they hired a top horror director, Tobe Hooper, to make it. Actually of course they were hoping for a repeat of his 1982 success, Poltergeist. Henry Mancini’s bombastic score is quite out of place for a horror movie.

Oscar-winner John Dykstra was hired for the special effects. The space scenes are good for their time but not overly showy. Dykstra obviously tried to ground some of the scenes in reality. The zombification effects are quite well done and very creepy.

Olivia Hussey, John Gielgud and Klaus Kinski were all signed to star in the film. All of them bowed out before filming began for various reasons. They were replaced by Nancy Paul, Patrick Stewart, and Frank Finlay respectively. The cast is actually too good for the material.

Frank (The Three Musketeers) Finlay is wonderful as Dr. Hans Fallada. Peter (Equus) Firth is appropriately grim and business-like as Colonel Caine. Patrick Stewart is always good but has only a minor role here as Dr. Armstrong. Steve (Helter Skelter) Railsback is okay as a tormented astronaut. Character actor Aubrey Morris has a small but delightful role as Sir Percy Heseltine.

Kudos to newcomer Mathilda May for playing the head alien completely nude throughout the film. Other than lying nude in a coffin and on a table and strolling nude through the sets, May does not have much to do until the climax.

Lifeforce may not be a good film, in spite of the ingredients, but it is good cheesy fun with expensive effects and a fine British cast.

People Watch: John Forbes-Robertson, who plays the Minister here, played Dracula in Hammer’s The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires (when Christopher Lee said no). The narrator is widely rumored to be John Larroquette. imdb lists this as unconfirmed.

Slither

Slither is currently available on instant Netflix.

Slither (2006) – Rated R

“In the small burg of Wheelsy, housecats are turning into hellcats and townsfolk are morphing into zombies, prompting Sheriff Bill Pardy and the concerned wife of one of the town’s richest citizens to uncover the dark forces at work.”

“Now, I don’t care what kind of leprosy you got. We need to find that girl. Now, you can make this peaceful, or you can make it hard. “

Writer James Gunn is a very clever, if profane, screenwriter. His rewrite of Dawn of the Dead was better written than the original with great characterizations. The problem is that James Gunn has a wicked streak of humor. That humor is in full force in Slither, his directorial debut.

The reason I called the humor a problem was that if Gunn had filmed Slither as a straight up horror movie, I think it would have been successful. Unfortunately audiences did not care for the humorous aspect of horror and stayed away in droves, both domestically and foreign.

It is a shame because not only is Slither horrific but it is also quite funny. Nathan Fillion (Malcolm Reynolds of Firefly/Serenity) is a fantastic leading man, able to do action while also having a deft touch with comedy. He seems to have found his niche with Castle but I would certainly like to see him do more genre work. Fillion is our male lead here, playing Sheriff Bill Pardy.

Michael Rooker has a hilarious time as the ever-evolving Grant Grant. Elizabeth Banks is very likeable as our female lead, Starla Grant. Gregg Henry excels as usual at playing the person you want to see die. He has made a career out of playing buttheads (Body Double, Payback)

James Gunn packs Slither full to the brim with horror movie references. The opening sequence is lifted from The Blob. There are tons of other references, including The Thing, Rosemary’s Baby, The Evil Dead, Nightmare on Elm Street, They Came from Within, Videodrome, Night of the Creeps, From Beyond and others. The special effects are mostly CGI but are pulled off quite well.

James Gunn went on to poke fun at the porn industry by writing and directing the web/Spike TV series PG Porn – “for those who love everything about pornography except the sex.” Please be aware that it is not PG rated. He also poked fun at superheroes by writing and directing the hysterical Super. Next up for Gunn is Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy.

Slither is a wonderful send up and homage to the horror genre. Stay tuned to the end for a post-credits sequence.

People Watch: Writer and director James Gunn has a cameo as Hank. Jenna Fischer (Pam on The Office, also Gunn’s wife at the time) has a small role as Shelby. Lloyd Kaufman of Troma Films is the sad drunk and Rob Zombie is the voice of Dr. Carl.

Daybreakers

Daybreakers is currently available on instant Netflix.

Daybreakers (2009) – Rated R

“Earth’s population is up against a vicious plague that’s transforming everyone into vampires and draining the world of an increasingly precious resource: blood. As the human race count nears zero, could science hold the key to a solution?”

“Let’s be clear about this. Humans were offered a chance to assimilate, but they refused. Therefore, they are enemies of the state and will be captured and farmed for blood supply.”

In 2003, twin brothers Peter and Michael Spierig made a nifty little horror movie called Undead. Both of them wrote, directed, edited, produced, and worked on the visual effects for the film. Peter even worked on the sound for Undead.

Daybreakers is the Spierig brothers sophomore effort and they have a much bigger budget to work with. Special effects, worked on by the brothers, are quite good. Creature effects are by Weta workshop and the quality shows. The Spierig brothers manufacture some amazing visuals: mirrored shots of clothing (vampires cast no reflection but clothing does), shadows pierced by glowing eyes, normal vampires waiting for a subway train while devolved ones fight under the platform. A human blood farm in this strange new world is particularly startling.

The movie opens with a young (in body anyway) vampire committing suicide by awaiting the dawn. The credits then play out over an abandoned-by-day urban landscape. I love the world created here by the spread of vampirism – something that is quite logical but ignored by other vampire movies. There are certainly moments of humor but the concept is taken quite seriously.

Indie darling Ethan Hawke is the lead here as our concerned vampire researcher, Edward Dalton. Sam Neill is our chief vampire, Charles Bromley, head of Bromley Blood Banks. Thankfully, he gives us a restrained and urbane villain. Willem Dafoe gives us a rather less-restrained performance but not over-the-top performance as Lionel ‘Elvis’ Cormac, leader of the human underground.

The rest of the cast is populated by an assortment of Australian and Kiwi actors, an astonishing number of whom were in Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith. Claudia Karvan is good as Audrey Bennett. Michael Dorman is zealous as Edward’s younger brother, Frankie Dalton. Jay Laga’aia makes an impression with a small role as Senator Turner.

The acting, direction and story are all good but the real reason Daybreakers works is the unique and very fleshed out world that the Spierig brothers have created. I look forward to their next feature, Predestination, also starring Ethan Hawke.

The House of the Devil

The House of the Devil is currently available on instant Netflix.

The House of the Devil (2009) – Rated R

“A cash-strapped college student named Samantha (Jocelin Donahue) takes a babysitting job during a full lunar eclipse and ends up fighting for her life. She soon discovers that her employers, Tom (Tom Noonan) and Mary (Mary Woronov) Ulman, are hiding a wicked, sick and twisted secret. Ti West (Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever) writes, directs and edits this terrifying film set in the early 1980s. Greta Gerwig and AJ Bowen co-star.”

“During the 1980s over 70% of American adults believed in the existence of abusive Satanic cults…another 30% rationalized the lack of evidence due to government cover ups…the following is based on true unexplained events…”

The House of the Devil is clearly a very personal project for Ti West. West writes, directs and edits this ode to 80s filmmaking. The House of the Devil rewards patient viewing. There is no over-the-top gore nor are there ‘kills’ spaced every fifteen minutes to keep you interested. This is a slow character-driven movie about a babysitter who gets in over her head.

Those of you who miss the 80s (and who doesn’t? I met my wife in 1982 and married her just as soon as the 80s were over) will find plenty to love here. Kudos to the costume designers, hair dressers, and set decorators for their fine attention to detail. The movie is filmed in 16mm (common in the 80s, especially for horror films) and features a lot of film grain. The attention to detail visually and in the script is amazing.

Even West’s cast is a throwback to 80s genre films. Underrated character actor Tom Noonan is wonderful as the creepy Mr. Ulman in The House of the Devil. In the 1980s he played serial killer Frances Dollarhyde in Manhunter, the Frankenstein Monster in Monster Squad, and Varrick in F/X.

Cult actress Mary Woronov, also wonderful, plays opposite Noonan as Mrs. Ulman. She spent the 1980s Eating Raoul (couldn’t resist) and also appearing in Night of the Comet, Chopping Mall, and Black Widow. Dee Wallace is excellent in a brief role as Landlady. For those who weren’t around in the 80s, she starred in E.T., The Howling, Critters, and Cujo.

Obviously the younger characters cannot be played by 80s stars. Jocelin (The Burrowers) Donahue does a good job of carrying the film as our young babysitter, Samantha. Greta Gerwig (No Strings Attached) does a fine job as her best friend, Megan. AJ (The Signal) Bowen rounds out the Ulman clan as Victor Ulman.

Ti West not only captures an early 80s mood but also the mood of an early 80s film. When The House of the Devil was released on DVD, Ti West also had it released on VHS in an old clamshell-style case. VHS had not had a major movie release in four years by that time. That is dedication!

People Watch: Writer and director Ti West has a cameo as favorite teacher. Assistant director Kamen Velkovsky also has a cameo as a demon.

More from Netflix and CBS Joins Hulu

Woot! CBS will be joining Hulu in 2013. We cut cable a long time ago and now my wife will be able to get How I Met Your Mother and The Big Bang Theory. Now if only there were some way to get HBO without cable…

Netflix streaming normally gives us a ton of content on the 1st and 15th of each month but this month there have been some interesting in-between releases I’d like to point out.

The Flowers of War (2011) – Rated R

“In 1937, as the Japanese army brutally invades the Chinese city of Nanking, an American mortician is trapped inside a western cathedral and vows to protect a group of young schoolgirls and 13 courtesans who are seeking refuge from the soldiers.”

I LOVE Yimou Zhang. Hero, House of the Flying Daggers, and Curse of the Golden Flower are some of my favorite films so I’m very interested to see what he does with this story.

Lockout (2012) – Rated PG-13

“A former government agent wrongly accused of a crime gets a shot at freedom — if he can engineer a high-risk mission to outer space in order to rescue the president’s daughter from a prison where the inmates are in control.”

Lockout is utterly generic. It tries to be Escape from New York in space but is so by the numbers. Rarely have I seen a science fiction movie show this little imagination.

A Cat inParis (2010) – Rated PG

“In this Oscar-nominated animated feature, little Zoe discovers that her cat, Dino, moonlights as the companion to Nico, a burglar with a heart of gold. Soon Zoe is drawn into a thriller filled with gangsters, jewels and the rooftops of Paris.”

Netflix does not get enough animated feature films, let alone Oscar-nominated ones.

Seal Team Six: The Raid on Osama Bin Laden (2012) – Not rated

“In this action-packed adventure, the members of U.S. Navy SEAL Team 6 train for a critical mission, initially unaware that their efforts will culminate in a daring nighttime raid on Osama Bin Laden’s compound.”

Hrrm – this was amazingly quick as it just aired on NatGeo. I’ll take a look but you are probably better off with Act of Valor if you want to see real modern tactics or waiting for Zero Dark Thirty at the theater for the hunt for Bin Laden story.

Bernie (2011) – Rated PG-13

“In this black comedy inspired by real-life events, affable Texas mortician Bernie befriends the small town’s wealthiest widow and then kills her. But despite the suspicious nature of her death, no one wants to think anything but the best of Bernie.”

I’m looking forward to watching this well-reviewed indie comedy.

Coma (2012) – Not rated

“In this made-for-cable miniseries based on Robin Cook’s bestselling novel, a doctor begins to suspect that something is amiss when several seemingly healthy patients begin lapsing into comas after routine operations.”

White Vengeance (2011) – Not rated

“As all of China falls into chaos during the final years of the Qin Dynasty, two brothers, powerful warlords Liu Bang and Xiang Fu, engage in a bloody battle to ascend the imperial throne — and to win the love of one woman.”

The Boys from Brazil (1978) – Rated R

“In this thriller based on Ira Levin’s novel, young Nazi hunter Barry Kohler stumbles on the trail of the infamous “Angel of Death,” Dr. Josef Mengele, who is planning to resurrect Hitler’s vision in South America.”

Ah yes, my kryptonite – a horror movie about Nazis. The Boys from Brazil has absolutely fantastic casting – stalwart American hero Gregory Peck playing Dr. Josef Mengele, Laurence Olivier as a Nazi hunter (a great counterpoint to his role in Marathon Man), the always reliable James Mason, and even a very young Steve Guttenberg.

 

 

Buried

Buried is currently available on instant Netflix and Amazon Prime.

Buried (2010) – Rated R

“While on a job in Iraq, civilian contractor Paul Conroy is attacked and kidnapped, then awakens to find himself buried alive in the middle of the desert with nothing but a lighter, a candle, a cell phone and a knife.”

“Nobody’s gonna pay $5 million dollars for me.” – “We take less. $1 million money. “

There are plenty of high concept films in Hollywood. Most end up failing by being ludicrous and/or boring. For every Phone Booth, there are a dozen ATMs and Man on a Ledges. As you might guess, Buried works quite well, actually exceptionally well. There are three reasons for this.

First, writer Chris Sparling creates a wonderfully plausible scenario, ripped from today’s headlines. The twists are well-chosen and, apart from some ill-advised nonsense with a snake, do not strain credulity, at least not to the breaking point. Honestly I can only think the snake was added to stretch running time a bit. Yes, I could sit here and pick apart the entire film – especially the whys – but I never once felt that way while watching it.

The riveting nature of the film must be credited to factor number two, the director Rodrigo Cortes. Cortes wisely avoids making this a roomy coffin and every shot of the film feels claustrophobic yet different. It is clear that Cortes is heavily influenced by Hitchcock. That Cortes can make a feature film about the interior of a coffin compelling is a real testament to his direction.

Of course the final ingredient is Ryan Reynolds. If you hang an entire movie on a single actor, that actor had better be up to the challenge. Prior to Buried, I had found Ryan Reynolds to be amusing but had not thought much of him beyond that. His performance in Buried is outstanding. He completely sells a desperate man running out of time.

The film opens in complete darkness as we hear Paul Conroy breathing. We discover Paul’s predicament just as he does. Wisely there is no pre-situation set-up. We do not see how he got there and that is something Paul himself must figure out. Sparling’s creation of the company CRT seems very realistic and the ending (no spoilers) was, in my opinion, wonderful.

People Watch: Samantha Mathis plays the voice of Paul Conroy’s wife, Linda. Back in 1990, she played a kidnapped girl who was buried alive in 83 Hours ‘Til Dawn.

Countess Dracula

Countess Dracula is currently available on instant Netflix and Amazon Prime.

Countess Dracula (1971) – Rated PG

“This Hammer Productions cult classic stars Ingrid Pitt as Elisabeth, a countess who discovers that the blood of young virgins can restore her fading beauty. Her twisted lover, Captain Dobi (Nigel Green), is happy to keep her in supply. But soon, the town begins to miss its nubile residents, and Dobi becomes enraged when he learns that Elisabeth has been posing as her own daughter in order to seduce a younger man.”

The tale of Countess Elizabeth Bathory has gained a fair amount of attention lately with two competing versions released in the past few years, Bathory, Countess of Blood (2008) starring Anna Friel and The Countess (2009) starring Julie Delpy. I still prefer 1971’s Countess Dracula.

Hammer took a page out of AIP’s Poe book and named this Countess Dracula to tie it in with their popular series of Dracula movies. As is typical of their 1970s output, Hammer lays on the gore and nudity. It may seem quaint today but I am surprised that it got a PG rating.

I loved how they showed the royalty’s callous disregard for the peasants right after the credits. The painting showed in that credit sequence is by Hungarian Istvan Csok and depicts the legend of Countess Bathory. This detail and many others in the production are courtesy of Hungarians Alexander Paal (producer) and Peter Sasdy (director). They had always wanted to adapt the legend of the Blood Countess to the screen and they wrote the story before passing it off to Jeremy Paul to do the screenplay.

The Avengers’ Diana Rigg was offered the title role. When she turned it down, Hammer turned to their Vampire Lovers star Ingrid Pitt. As in Vampire Lovers, Ingrid is quite good at being bad. The makeup artists do quite a nice job at making her older (and progressively uglier each time the blood wears off). Pitt was quite upset however to discover that her thick accent caused her to be dubbed over by another actress, Olive Gregg.

Nigel Green turns in a wonderful performance in what is essentially a henchman role. The only problem is that his performance is so much better than those around him that it can show them in a bad light. He has a tendency to steal the show, whether as Colour-Sergeant Bourne in Zulu or Hercules in Jason and the Argonauts. I felt for him as his Captain Dobi loved the Countess as she was before regaining her youth but once she regained her youth, she chases after the young Lt. Toth (Sandor Eles, another Hungarian emigre).

People Watch: A young Lesley Anne Down plays the Countess’ daughter. She would go on to fame as Georgina in Upstairs, Downstairs. She later starred in The Great Train Robbery, The Pink Panther Strikes Again, and The Sphinx.